In the high-stakes game of big-wall climbing, the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru may be the ultimate prize. Sitting at the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River in Northern India, the Shark’s Fin has seen more failed attempts by elite climbing teams over the past 30 years than any other ascent in the Himalayas.
The layout of the 21,000-foot mountain’s perversely stacked obstacles makes it both a nightmare and an irresistible calling for some of the world’s toughest climbers. Hauling over 200 pounds of gear up 4,000-feet of technical, snowy, mixed ice and rock climbing is actually the simple part of this endeavor. After crossing that gauntlet you reach the Shark’s Fin itself: 1,500 feet of smooth, nearly featureless granite. There are few pre-existing fissures, cracks or footwalls. It is simply a straight sheet of overhanging rock.
To undertake Meru, says Jon Krakauer, the bestselling author of Into Thin Air, “You can’t just be a good ice climber. You can’t just be good at altitude. You can’t just be a good rock climber. It’s defeated so many good climbers and maybe will defeat everybody for all time. Meru isn’t Everest. On Everest you can hire Sherpas to take most of the risks. This is a whole different kind of climbing.”